It seems to have happened quite frequently with the East Coast post-punk scene in the decade following the explosion of New York punk rock; an artist or band, frequently ignored in mainstream circles during its heyday, finds itself a decade or so later something of a musical touchstone among the cognoscenti and a small pack of tuned-in fans, despite its scanty recorded output or short lifespan. The Dave Rave Conspiracy was just such a group.
By chance, synchronicity, or both, Dave Rave (née Dave DesRoches) showed up at a gathering in a suburban Toronto apartment in the spring of 1988 at the same time as underground pop luminary Gary Pig Gold. Besides being a well-traveled musician and songwriter himself -- though at the time in the Beach Boys-clone combo Endless Summer -- Gold was a major mover and shaker in the pop community and the man behind the first and most important Canadian punk/new wave fanzine (Pig Paper); while DesRoches, following the disbandment of his seminal Hamilton, Ontario, group the Shakers, was serving as frontman for the gold and platinum-selling "Canadian Ramones" Teenage Head. Both were searching at the time for reasons to leave their respective, artistically stifling gigs, and both expressed admiration and respect for the other's work, but it would take hours of lobbying from a mutual friend to both, music scribe Dawn Eden, before they would finally hook up musically. DesRoches eventually convinced Gold to hear the stripped-down solo demos he had been working on for months, chiefly inspired not by punk but by a newfound admiration for the experimental pop work of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks (the albums Smile and Song Cycle, in particular). Gold was extremely impressed by the quality, and, in April 1989, joined DesRoches in Daniel Lanois' Grant Avenue Studio in Hamilton to begin recording a long, complex suite called "Farmer Needs Rain" for what would ultimately become Valentino's Pirates, with Gold in the producer's seat. The completed recording, despite its lo-fi origin, was nearly as exquisite (and, incidentally, uncommercial) as the music that influenced it, and it cemented the new partnership between its two catalysts.
The pair began to work through the dozens of unrecorded DesRoches songs. They also began to perform together, playing their first gig during a trip to New York, while networking with other popsters of their ilk (Richard X. Heyman, Mark Johnson, Shane Faubert, Michael Mazzarella) in the city. By July of that summer, DesRoches had assembled a studio band featuring drummer Jack Pedler (fellow Teenage Head, as well as a member of the Canadian touring version of the Kasenetz-Katz Super Cirkus) and local guitarist Coyote Shivers, and spent much of the next month recording at Grant Avenue. In September of that year, DesRoches and Gold officially left their respective bands and made the move to New York, subletting an apartment on the Upper East Side. Shivers soon joined them, and the recording of Valentino's Pirates continued.
At first there were no industry takers for the finished album. At the end of the following year it was briefly issued in Canada on cassette by Mole Recordings. But then Rudolf Solovyov, self-styled American A&R representative for the Russian label Melodiya Records, who had caught one of DesRoches and Gold's first Greenwich Village gigs, suddenly offered the band a contract. By this time, the newly christened Dave Rave Conspiracy, in addition to DesRoches, Gold, and Shivers on guitars, featured ex-Washington Squares bassist Lauren Agnelli and former Television drummer Billy Ficca, and the quintet played frequently in and around both New York City and Hamilton.
Just three years after the Berlin Wall had crumbled, the landmark event took place: Valentino's Pirates was released on vinyl by Melodiya, making the Dave Rave Conspiracy (changed to the Dave Rave Group for the album because of label objections to the word "conspiracy") the first Western artists signed directly and exclusively to a label run by the former Soviet state. This deal included a trip to Russia to work at a St. Petersburg studio and shoot video footage to promote the band's first single, "Weight of the World." The album went over quite well in Russia, spawning a number of singles, yet the band remained inexplicably unsigned in its home country. Nevertheless, despite the album's extremely limited and unconventional original release, it gradually earned a sterling reputation in the international pop underground for its superb songcraft.
Shortly after the Canada-only release of the Conspiracy's second album, Three Octave Fantastic Hexagram, on Gritty City Records in 1994, the band dissolved, with its members increasingly taking on other significant projects. Specifically, DesRoches and Agnelli formed the duo Agnelli & Rave, Shivers began a solo recording career as well as making a transition into movies (Johnny Mnemonic, Empire Records), Ficca continued to be a fixture on the downtown New York scene in and around periodic Television reunions, and Gold became a founding member of the great maximum rhythm & bluegrass band the Ghost Rockets.
Toward the end of 2000, Gold reassembled all the original session tapes, including archival recordings, from Valentino's Pirates and began remastering the album in preparation for re-release. This also led to a reunion of the Conspiracy at the July 2001 International Pop Overthrow Festival in Los Angeles, featuring, in addition to original players DesRoches and Gold, guitarist Jason Frederick and, as the rhythm section, Lisa Mychols and Robbie Rist of the Masticators. A month later, the Tenth-Anniversary reissue of Valentino's Pirates, expanded and digitally restored, was released on CD by Canadian label Bullseye Records. This was backed up by a December reunion of the band in New York City hosted by Not Lame Recordings, with DesRoches, Gold, Rist, Agnelli, and guitarist Mark McCarron. In January 2002, the definitive "Anniversary Edition" of the album was released worldwide by Gold's label co-run with Shane Faubert, To M'Lou Music. In 2003, The Dave Rave Group returned with their first album of original material in 14 years. Everyday Magic appeared on Bullseye in August.
~ Stanton Swihart